The Importance of a Website in Self-Publishing

Thursday, April 14, 2016

by Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) The Hot Sheet
Authors who are self-publishing their work won’t be surprised to hear the line, “There is a big disconnect between big publishers and their authors.” But the source of that comment and its intent may raise some eyebrows: It’s longtime industry consultant Mike Shatzkin, and he’s writing about author websites.

Shatzkin, who annually directs the industry-facing Digital Book World Conference in New York, writes:

“But what is always true is that the Web site is the one piece of digital real estate the author can actually own, which is not subject to some change in rules or process that will affect its discovery in search or the ability to use it for any purpose of the author’s choosing."

Shatzkin’s main purpose here is to encourage publishing houses to help authors create and maintain the most effective web sites they can, and he’s coincidentally getting at one of the ironies of independent publishing: most self-publishing authors are probably better at understanding the importance of a good site because they direct their own marketing.

Among those who don’t get the priority of their own site, we usually hear, “Oh, but I just use my Facebook page instead of a separate site.” This can be a dangerous move.

As my Hot Sheet colleague Jane Friedman has pointed out many times — including in this post at her site years ago — there are three reasons that Facebook is not a good substitute for your own site. As Friedman tells us:

  • “People may leave Facebook.” Remember MySpace? Once it was all the rage, not Facebook. Things change. You don’t want to lose your base camp when they do.
  • “Facebook is not under your control.” Friedman writes: “You can never control what Facebook does—with its design, with its user interface, with your likes/followers, with its functionality, with its ad displays.”
  • “A Web site is the most effective way to deliver information to your audience.” What she’s talking about here is searchability — the great strength of the Internet — as the fundamental value of a strong site. As Shatzkin puts it in his piece, “Best practice is to optimize a landing page on the author’s site for each of the most commonly-searched terms that could lead to real interest or the sale of a book.”

Does the importance of your site, however, mean that you have to blog? No. In many cases, especially for nonfiction writers, blogging makes sense. But in many others, it doesn’t. Blogging isn’t the point of your author site unless it’s a meaningful and time-effective way for you to serve and connect with your readership.

The real point is that connection.

You want your site to get the right info to a busy visitor fast. And the “right info” may not be your book. The real value of the Internet context for authors today is connection, networking, access. You want them to land on your site and learn everything they need to connect with you, to feel they’d like to be in touch with you, to feel they have access to you.

So what needs to be front and center?

  • A contact page link;
  • Your buttons for social media (you don’t have to use all the platforms, but if you offer a button make sure it’s working, test it);
  • A good picture of yourself, professionally made; and
  • A sense of your personality — this comes from smart, mindful, purposeful design of your site that says to your visitors what you want to say.
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Bottom line:

Don’t throw a site together quickly. Take your time and build it out so that it works for you. Then invite the world in to see it. It’s your hub, your home, your control center…and your display window. You want those shoppers to like what they see.

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Porter Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in book publishing. Formerly with CNN, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media, he is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, founded by the German Book Office New York, the magazine for the international publishing industry. With Jane Friedman, he produces The Hot Sheet publishing-industry newsletter, providing expert analysis and interpretation in a private subscriptionemail newsletter, expressly devised to give authors the news insights they need, free of agenda and bias. Anderson also writes the #MusicForWriters series on contemporary composers for Thought Catalog.